Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Alfonso Cuarón's Sólo con tu pareja is a superior Mexican sex comedy made a decade before his breakthrough hit Y tú mama también. Initially screened in the United States only at film festivals, the film's takeoff point seems to be both Pedro Almodóvar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotape. An unused title associated with the film is Love in the Time of Hysteria, a takeoff on the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera.
Alfonso Cuarón's farce is touched by the hysteria over AIDS (or SIDA in Latin America); the title Sólo con tu pareja (Only with Your Partner) is derived from public service announcements that recommended limiting one's sex life and using condoms. Although financed by the Mexican government Sólo con tu pareja is anything but a reasoned argument for abstinence. Like a Doris Day bedroom romp gone mad, it chronicles the crazy lifestyle of a Mexican Don Juan who longs to break free of his promiscuous lifestyle and find peace with the girl of his dreams. Although the girl of his dreams seems to be whomever is closest at any particular moment, the beauty who just moved in next door sends our hero for a loop.
Ad writer Tomás Tomás (Daniel Giménez Cacho) gets away with procrastination on the job because he sleeps with his boss Gloria (Isabel Benet). His apartment is two doors from his doctor, Mateo Mateos (Luis de Icaza), and Tomás takes advantage of his neighbor's absence to simultaneously seduce both Gloria and the doctor's aide Silvia Silva (Dobrina Liubomirova). While sneaking across the balcony, Tomás spies a new neighbor, airline hostess Clarisa Negrete (Claudia Ramírez) and falls hopelessly in love. His plan to make Clarisa the love of his life has a few unfortunate flaws. Clarisa is engaged to an airline pilot, and Doctor Mateos and his wife laugh at Tomás's protests of true love. Worst of all, Silvia Silva decides that the appropriate retaliation for being short-changed in bed is to send Tomás a false blood test notice that marks him positive for AIDS.
I wouldn't have thought it possible to make a movie in 1991 with a major comedy subplot about AIDS but that's exactly what Sólo con tu pareja does. In its eagerness to make farcical use of non-PC subject matter, Cuarón's film most resembles the movies of Pedro Almodóvar. Tomás Tomás' friends eventually rush to assure him that he's really okay, but when they first hear the news about his false AIDS notice, everyone seems to think it's hilarious.
That's because Tomás Tomás represents the entire cultural phenomenon of the amorous, devious Don Juan. Tomás uses paper cups to count his conquests and has trouble compiling a list of his sex partners even when using a computer. He seems to spend all of his waking energy either pursuing or managing his sex life. New female bed partners simply seem to gravitate toward Tomás. To express her amorous interest, nurse Silvia Silva makes his blood test an exercise in compassionate torture.
Tomás feels pangs of remorse over his lifestyle, even if they surface only when he thinks he'll never conquer the "important one," the intensely lovely Clarisa. Given his reputation, nobody takes Tomás seriously when he talks about being faithful to any woman. The best part of Sólo con tu pareja is that we slowly realize that Tomás is serious. Of course, nothing less than the threat of death is required to force this character self-examination.
Director Cuarón pretty much throws the comedy book at Sólo con tu pareja with humor that ranges from broad slapstick to reasonably subtle social observances. Many of the characters have double names (Tomás Tomás, Silvia Silva, Mateo Mateos, Teresa de Teresa) just to keep things silly. When Tomás can't think of a single slogan to sell Jalapeño chiles, the non-intellectual Silvia comes up with a dozen good ones off the top of her head. Gloria Gold rips off cultural symbols like Aztec chieftains to sell her products, and when Tomás has a nightmare, it's populated with similar iconic characters, including a masked wrestler hero.
Much of the humor is less inspired, and relies for its effect on the film's impeccable design sense and the contributions of the likeable actors. Star Daniel Giménez Cacho is forever being caught naked in public, in the hallway or standing on a balcony high above serenading mariachis. He repeatedly falls into a bucket of water, as if fate is conspiring to cool down his sex drive. The luscious Claudia Ramírez is introduced practicing her stewardess safety routines, and when betrayed by her unfaithful boyfriend, talks in rather foolish aviation terms: "This is worse than an emergency landing!" The movie also uses Japanese tourists for easy humor, although the main Japanese doctor Takeshi (Toshirô Hisaki) is refreshingly direct when it comes time to shake the hero out of his suicidal notions.
Sólo con tu pareja is fast, stylish, sexy and smart enough to evade charges of bad taste. On the contrary, when most of the cast pursues the suicidal couple up Mexico City's vertiginous Latin American Tower, the screwball comedy tradition is given a new lease on life. The picture is a good antidote for the crude trash now passing for sex comedy on American screens. Anyone who misses the lunatic fun of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown will go for Cuarón's comedy in a big way.
Criterion's DVD of Sólo con tu pareja presents a flawless enhanced transfer with an excellent rendering of the rich, dark tones of Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematographer of Sleepy Hollow and The New World.
The extras include a making-of interview featurette and two early short films, one each by Alfonso Cuarón and his co-screenwriter brother Carlos. Ryan Long provides program notes for the insert booklet, which also offers Carlos Cuarón's lengthy 'biography' of the film's Tomás Tomás character. Criterion disc producer Kim Hendrickson organizes the menu extras around interesting graphic designs (little cupid arrows for the Spanish accents) and the film's pervasive color green. In the interview segment, Carlos Cuarón impishly refers to his brother's first three features as his "green period."
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Sólo con tu pareja rates:
Supplements: Making Solo con tu pareja interview featurette, Alfonso Cuaron's 1983 short film Quartet for the End of Time, Co-screenwriter Carlos Cuaron's 2000 short film Wedding Night, Trailer, insert booklet with an essay by Ryan Long and a biographical sketch of the main character written by Carlos Cuarón
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 5, 2006
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson